A TANNED, SOFT-SPOKEN man has something wrong with his blood which is not at all soft-spokenly killing him. He is my friend, and when he was not dying, I always sought him out especially to be with, but now I go to see him only because I am—was it your own idea, or were you poorly advised?—a priest of sorts, and if the interlocutor, that prosecuting attorney, should press me for another reason for believing in God, I would say that I believe in him because it is only by the grace of something like God that I can do something as much braver than my face as visiting this good man whose pain makes awkward strangers of us. But if grace gets me there, it gets me no further. We cannot make ourselves known to each other; we are not healed and forgiven by each other's presence. With words as valueless as poker chips, we play games whose object it is to keep us from seeing each other's cards. Chit-chat games in which "How are you?" means "Don't tell me who you are," and "I'm alone and scared" becomes "Fine thanks." Games where the players create the illusion of being in the same room but where the reality of it is that each is alone inside a skin in that room, like bathyspheres at the bottom of the sea. Blind man's bluff games where everyone is blind.
It is no wonder that we have had to invent other games to counteract these. Encounter groups, T groups, the multisensory techniques of William Schutz and the Esalen Institute and the Living Theater. After all these years of playing games whose purpose it is to keep us at arm's length from one another, to hide from each other our nakedness and our humanity, we turn at last to games no less pathetic and foolish in their ways but whose purpose is nonetheless to help us meet without disguise, to touch without embarrassment, to be human without fear. The sacrament of the Lord's Supper was such a game, I imagine, was once such a supper, such a breakfast, with bread being broken, people praying with their mouths full, and the priest thumping the table for a little silence, all of them caught up in some hallowed middle ground where God knows what was celebrated—the breadness of bread, the transfiguring miracle of bread shared, the passing of a common cup from lip to lip and tipsy kiss of peace, breath laden with bread, wine, miracle.
- Originally published in The Alphabet of Grace